Tale of Ekati will be making his first start of 2008 in the Louisiana Derby (gr.II).

Tale of Ekati will be making his first start of 2008 in the Louisiana Derby (gr.II).

Barbara Livingston

Louisiana Derby Should Provide Answers

Eight challengers will look to upset Pyro March 8 at Fair Grounds.

With less than two months until the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), it is time that some of the highly-touted 3-year-olds begin to answer our questions.

Many of those answers will be provided March 8 at Fair Grounds, when nine top challengers will do battle in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II). Aside from Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Pyro, the lone entrant with a graded stakes victory this year, there is some serious query to be done:

Will Tale of Ekati and Majestic Warrior, both entering off of significant layoffs, be ready to tackle top competition? Will Steve Asmussen’s newest barn member, J Be K, be seasoned enough to compete with this caliber after only two lifetime starts, both of which were sprints?

Can undefeated California invader Yankee Bravo have the same kind of success on dirt? Will this be the breakout start for Blackberry Road, a two-time graded stakes runner-up? Do allowance starters Stevil and My Pal Charlie even belong in this race?

After they run the 1 1/16 miles of the Louisiana Derby, we should have most of our answers.

Many believe the Louisiana Derby will be the coming-out party for Charles Fipke’s Tale of Ekati. The son of Tale of the Cat  has been off since Oct. 27 when he finished a well-beaten fourth in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) in the slop at Monmouth Park.

Since then, trainer Barclay Tagg has been very cautious with his talented colt. A former Derby winner with Funny Cide, Tagg did not like the way Tale of Ekati had been training at Gulfstream Park early in the year and moved him to Palm Meadows. Since that time, he has been training like a monster, posting several bullet works, including five furlongs in 1:00.30 March 3.

“He’s training very, very nicely,” Tagg said. “I’m very pleased with where he is, though I would have liked to have had another work in him.”

Tale of Ekati, who is out of the Sunday Silence mare Silence Beauty, recovered from a case of bucked shins as a 2-year-old to win the Sept. 15 Futurity Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park. He is 2-1-0 from four starts. Egdar Prado will ride for the first time.

Kinsman Farm’s Majestic Warrior has been sidelined even longer than Tale of Ekati, as he will have been off more than five months when he lines up in Louisiana. The son of A.P. Indy last ran a disappointing sixth in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 6. The Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner was due to start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but trainer Bill Mott decided to scratch him because of a minor left foot injury.

Majestic Warrior also has been training sharply at Payson Park. His last work was March 2, breezing four furlongs in :48.40 – the best of 13 works that day. Garrett Gomez will get the return call.

Asmussen, who will start 7-5 morning-line favorite Pyro, received J Be K in his barn early in February after owner Ahmed Zayat removed his horses from California. Since then, the Silver Deputycolt has been working steadily at Fair Grounds.

Asmussen said March 5 that J Be K’s works have been terrific, but his main question mark is whether or not his colt can get the 1 1/16 miles. Both of his wins, including a five-length score Feb. 15 in allowance competition, have been sprints. Kent Desormeaux will likely send J Be K right to the lead, as he looks to be one of the few early pacesetters in the race.

Yankee Bravo has won all three of his lifetime starts thus far, which normally would be reason enough to place him among the favorites. But the Yankee Gentleman colt has never raced on dirt. His first two starts were on the grass, including his racing debut in England, and that was followed by his Jan. 27 victory in the California Derby, which came on the Golden Gate Fields Tapeta surface. Trained by Patrick Gallagher, Yankee Bravo will have Alex Solis aboard.

Dogwood Stable’s Blackberry Road is the most experienced of the group, having started eight times, six of them in graded-stakes competition. The David Carroll trainee has won just one of those efforts, but has been on the board in four others. After finishing second in both the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) and the LeComte Stakes (gr. III), the son of Gone West encountered traffic problems in the late stages of the Feb. 9 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), eventually finishing fifth to Pyro.

In regard to Pyro, will the Louisiana Derby stamp him, along with War Pass, as one of the two best 3-year-olds in the country? That, along with many other questions, will be answered March 8.

$600,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II, Race 9, 4:48 p.m.), Three-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Stevil, 122, Calvin H. Borel
2. My Pal Charlie, 122, Julien R. Leparoux
3. Pyro, 122, Shaun Bridgmohan
4. J Be K, 122, Kent J. Desormeaux
5. Unbridled Vicar, 122, Corey J. Lanerie
6. Tale of Ekati, 122, Edgar S. Prado
7. Blackberry Road, 122, Robby Albarado
8. Yankee Bravo, 122, Alex O. Solis
9. Majestic Warrior, 122, Garrett K. Gomez

View Steve Haskin's Derby Dozen